SPEAK THE DEAD by Grant McKenzie


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Violence, death, and destruction haunt a young woman and the detective who wants to save her in McKenzie’s latest.

Twenty-five years ago, when Sally was 6, her mother was murdered and Sally was warned to run—by her dead mother. More recently, a deformed man beat and raped two nuns, one of whom died, while looking for the child who fled that night. But the adult Sally has kept her head down for years, staying off the radar of those who seek her. Now she works as a makeup artist for the dead, making corpses look their best for a Portland funeral home. When a woman is run over just outside the mortuary and Sally touches the just-dead body, she sees the killing through the victim’s eyes. She meets Jersey Castle, a Portland detective whose punk band was playing a club near the murder, and there’s a spark between them. Soon, Sally is missing, abducted by a strange man with a ruined face and taken back to the house where her family died many years ago to perform an odd ritual. Jersey; his lesbian partner, Amarela Valente—a femme fatale whom men find irresistible; and Kameelah Steele, a Seattle detective, are on the trail, trying to piece together why Sally was abducted. The plot is a combination of same old, same old with some original touches. It’s well-executed, especially when it comes to the appearance of an unconventional motorcycle gang, but McKenzie’s tortured prose, endless detail on the funerary process, and gratuitous violence do not work. Most unfortunate is the dialogue, which is both unbelievable and often inappropriate. His characters don’t just speak to one another; they mutter, groan, laugh, chortle, grumble, sneer, and whine their lines.

Despite the blood, guts, and falling bodies, McKenzie shoots for a light, bantering tone, which falls flat.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-940610-54-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Polis Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2015


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